Band of Brothers

Taylor on the left and Stephen on the right in the black shirt. Photo cred to Caleb Barnhardt

When Taylor started this journey, I didn’t realize how many beautiful people and and families we would meet. Families with children who were struggling with Substance Use Disorders. Families that were holding on by a thread. When Taylor was in a collegiate recovery program in Raleigh, NC he made some amazing friends. The kind you have all your life. I am convinced that many of the people who struggle with this disease have hearts that are just too big for this world. They are some of the most creative, inspiring, beautiful souls I have ever met. The struggles and darkness they have been through have given them a lens of compassion and way of seeing the world that you only find when you walk through such darkness and come out on the other side. Stephen Brown is one of the beautiful boys that was in recovery with Taylor. This is a piece he wrote about his relationship with Taylor. I treasure all the memories and moments they share with me about Taylor. I root for them and fight beside them as they continue to battle addiction and mental health issues. Thank you for sending this to me Stephen. I know Taylor walks beside you each and every day. Loving you like we do on the best and worst of days.

Thank You, Taylor

“It’s silly, no’ When a rocket ship explodes, and everybody still wants to fly, Some say a man ain’t happy until he truly dies, Oh why Time, Time. ~ Prince Sign of the Times

The first song I listened to the night after I’d received the news of Taylor’s passing was “Sign o’ the Times”. Prince had somehow been an integral part of nearly all the “days-after” life changing events. The day I’d met Taylor was the day after I’d gotten out of rehab and moved into a sober living. I posted Prince lyrics that day on Instagram. This day was different, however, because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what Prince meant when he wrote, “Some say a man ain’t happy until a man truly dies”. To this day, I’ll never tell you I get it––but I will say I’ve reasoned with the lyric.

Our first conversation was at the Raleigh YMCA where I asked him how old he was, expecting to get a number somewhere in between 23 and 27. He said 19, which was a year older than me, and yet the man was at least half a foot taller than me and built like a basketball player. At that moment, I knew two things: a.) Taylor was definitely going to be my personal trainer and b.) Taylor was going to be my friend. We worked out that night with our friend Caleb for an hour and a half (I tapped out 45 minutes in and read a book in the lobby) and then chainsmoked cigarettes for another 30 minutes in the parking lot before going back to our Sober Living.

I’d been through in-patient rehab for drug addiction in high school before, however a subsequent relapse after graduating that program landed me in a 90 day facility in another state, and then in a sober living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Back home, I’d struggled with a multitude of issues including cocaine and opioid abuse, and hadn’t ever given counseling or treatment a chance despite my parents’ and peers’ urges. Finally, in the fall of 2018, I’d given up and decided to give these programs a chance. When I’d reached Raleigh, it was just days before the new year and there were a lot of guys in our house. Taylor was friends with my roommate, so I’d begun to hang out with those guys, who were both older than me. I was still graduating high school and by far the youngest member of the house. I’d gravitated toward Taylor specifically because he had a leadership mentality as a result of his journey before Sober Living.

We’d end up being there well into the New Year, and eventually as people came in and left, Taylor and I grew closer and became roommates. For a short time we’d share a space with Kevin, who was  a leader and respected amongst everybody in the house, especially Taylor. For a good period of time, we’d play golf video games and watch adrenaline-pumping thrillers nearly every night of the week. We were all pretty normal guys despite our addictions and I think we saved each other as much as we all bickered. It’s hard to explain what a sober living is or how it works, especially when you’re in high school. Everybody thinks you’re in some sort of psychiatric ward with crazy people who’re bouncing off the walls. It couldn’t be further from the truth though––all of these guys had talents, hobbies, and people that they loved.

Taylor and I used to walk everywhere in Raleigh, meeting people and just figuring out stuff to do for the day when we weren’t in treatment. As we gained more freedom, we faced more boredom being at the house. I’d go to the NC State library all the time and work on schoolwork. Taylor would come with me pretty often, and a lot of times we’d end up just roaming around campus pretending we went to school there. It was always funny because Taylor didn’t retain much information about Raleigh, so we’d make up names of buildings and streets across campus when we’d talk to people. He was hilarious. That’s the number one thing that everybody says when they talk to me about him––his sense of humor was impeccable. I had many bad days, but no bad day was bad enough that a joke or prank from Taylor couldn’t brighten things up.

The people Taylor cared about the most were his family. Kerri, Taylor Sr., and Blair were the main people he was concerned with at almost any time, especially his mother. I remember she’d asked him one time to annotate a Brene Brown podcast that was at least 6 hours long. Taylor did it in a day or two at the most and came to group therapy telling us all of the different trauma theories Brene Brown had discussed. He told us he didn’t realize it, but he thought he’d been set up to literally learn about mental health by his mother. I still to this day think of that group therapy session with so much love because it was the moment I remember him first opening up about his family. He told us his regrets, and most importantly he told us how much he’d give to fix things with his family and show them he loved them.

The night Taylor left this Earth, he texted me and said two things: “Hey”, and then later, “Thank you”. I’ll never know what those texts would’ve led to had I been awake, but I know the next day he was gone. I’d left our sober living and moved back home to another one so I could be closer to my family, and Taylor had graduated a month after my leaving. We texted every day, and played video games whenever possible. I carried a lot of guilt by my side for a while after that, wondering if I could’ve said something that would’ve changed the outcome. But I know from the people closest to him and the texts he’d sent to me in the weeks leading up to his untimely passing that he was happy. His 20th birthday, just weeks prior to his passing, was a special day because it was the last time he’d Face-Timed me. I wanted to make it up to see him, but my new sober living wasn’t ready to let me make a trip just yet, so I’d Face-Timed him and we’d planned a visit for me the next month. He looked happy and he looked like he’d really found a place for himself in Raleigh on his own.

I don’t know what he meant when he thanked me.   I can only hope that in the future, I’m half as strong and decent a man. My 20th birthday was a few months ago and I’ve now lived more days than Taylor got to.  I remind myself of that every day so I don’t take anything for granted. He always told me not to take things for granted, especially family, and I’ve grown closer than ever to my mother since she drove with me to his memorial a year and a half ago. Every time she tells me she loves me, I feel it for two guys with two moms who love them: Taylor and myself.

He was my best friend, big brother, and now my guardian angel. I know he’s happy now, and I know that he’s proud of his sister and his parents. I try to make him proud. I try to do the right thing, one day at a time, for him. There are days of guilt, wondering why him and not me. I know how he’d react to my saying that though. It’s hard to lose someone who you looked up to and wanted to be like. How do you reason with that? I don’t. When things begin to fall apart, I look to the sky and see that rocket ship explode and I remember he’s flying over me. I know he’s happy, and I know even God mistook him for at least 25 years old at the gates of Heaven.

Thank you, Taylor. Godspeed.

  • Stephen Brown

Published by Kerri Rhodes

I am a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) with twenty-eight years experience in the mental health field. None of my experience, prepared me for my own son's struggles with addiction and the journey it would take our family on. This site focuses on my journey, grief, addiction, and mental illness. It is for anyone who struggles with addiction, loves someone who struggles with mental illness or substance use disorder and those who live with grief. There is the grief of loving someone who is standing right in front of you that you no longer recognize and the grief of losing someone you love. I lost my beautiful son, Taylor when he was 20 years old to an accidental overdose. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. In that moment, as I fell to my knees my heart breaking into a millions pieces I was unable to think, breathe, or speak. The next day in the early hours, I began to write and it was like someone undammed a river. It would become a huge part of my healing in that first year. Taylor's was a light in this world and this blog is a tribute to that light. When we share our broken pieces we begin to bring light to the darkness. This site will be a place I share my grief, my brokeness and my healing in the hope that it might help someone else. It will be a place to share the things that are hard to watch and even harder to live.

2 thoughts on “Band of Brothers

  1. That was so beautiful! I am so thankful he wrote that, even though I cried all the way through. So beautiful!

    It just made me feel even deeper compassion for you, Kerri. I freshly see how your story could be my story. I also have a son who is kind and funny, with whom I am very close. And possibly if circumstances were different, I would be the one writing the blog. My heart yearns to comfort you and your dear husband and daughter. I am so sorry for the pain you all have had to go through!

    Virtual hugs and love in Jesus. Everyday is 1 day closer. ❤️

    Like

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